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Girls With Drills: An interview with Kisha Bradley

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US-born Kisha Bradley asked her husband where in the world he would most like to live. He answered Sheffield, and after a holiday here to experience the big village charm herself, Kisha was sold too.

Since becoming a Sheffielder, Kisha has been on a mission to make STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) accessible to more socially-excluded children and, alongside #GirlsWithDrills co-founder Ruth Amos, is challenging the narrative that inventing, making, mending and tinkering are just for men. The drill can be a girl's best friend.

How did #GirlsWithDrills come to exist?

I was pitching for funding at Sheffield Soup, a live crowdfunder with a nice audience and no 'dragons'. I asked the audience to picture a girl with a drill and Ruth, who was in the audience, liked that. She's an inventor and has faced similar challenges to me. As a woman in engineering, it can be difficult to be taken seriously. 'You sure you wanna get dirt under your nails?' That kind of thing.

Ruth and I first started with the #GirlsWithDrills t-shirts which helped to fund us going out into communities that wouldn't necessarily be able to afford the Bright Box [a mobile makerspace to engage young people in STEAM] workshops. The #GirlsWithDrills workshops came after, when I was asked if I'd do woodworking. I hadn't done those kind of workshops before, so I bought 12 drills and we've being doing #GirlsWithDrills ever since.

I want people to come who think they can't use a drill

Who are the #GirlsWithDrills workshops for?

Anyone from three years old up to... well, women don't tend to tell their age, so grey hair and lots of wisdom. Usually people who are buying their first home or who've recently become single. They don't want to wait anymore for someone to put the picture up. So many women can relate to this.

I want people to come who think they can't use a drill. If you think it's not for you then it definitely is.

How do you get involved with the groups of children you work with?

Somebody will approach me and say they'd love to have this activity, and we like that you communicate in a way that's not patronising. We mostly work with libraries.

At school kids get exposure to STEAM but it's important to have role models in both formal and informal educational experiences. If you have a parent in STEAM, you're more likely to go into it yourself, but you can't be what you can't see.

Do you find traditional gender roles are still ingrained in the children you meet?

Definitely. I might work with a kid one year and they're super keen, then the next year they'll come back and they've heard in that time from somewhere - a parent, another kid - that 'this is for boys, that's for girls'. My niece got a toy kitchen for Christmas because 'she likes food'. We all like food! So I bought her a toolset.

Did you always want to be an engineer?

No, I wanted to be Beyonce, a writer, an astronaut. I had no idea what an engineer was.

How was the gender split on your course at university?

I was the only woman in a class of 30. Women's spatial awareness is generally not as good as men's because of those early interactions being encouraged with building Lego and climbing trees, taking risks. It would be good for universities to recognise these disadvantages and accommodate.

And there was the working class element of it too. Coming from a deprived area - even if you have money - you still experience disadvantage through multiple deprivation. Maybe the school quality isn't as high or the infrastructure for commuting is poor.

And the confidence that comes with class too. If I do an assignment I'll be less likely to take a risky approach. It's harder for me to assert myself because I don't have that confidence in myself and my knowledge.

What has been the highlight of #GirlsWithDrills so far for you?

I like how the reluctance at the start of a workshop becomes excited nervousness, which becomes complete excitement. Then you wonder why you ever doubted yourself.

Being able to empower these people must feel incredible...

I don't like the word 'empower'. It assumes that I hold the power and give it out. You already have the power - it just needs to be respected. It's more about creating a safe space where women can be goofy, ask questions, make mistakes and learn from them without feeling judged.

Engineering is about trying, asking why it didn't work out, then trying something else. Engineers are also really good at failing.

Emma Matthews

Follow #GirlsWithDrills on Facebook

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